By Evan C. Lambrou
Special to The National Herald
October 24, 2015
PITTSBURGH – Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of ten pediatric hospitals listed in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014-2015 “Honor Roll for America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” is one of Pittsburgh’s most beloved institutions, and its success as one of the nation’s foremost centers of pediatric care has skyrocketed in recent years.
This should come as no surprise. Children’s merged with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2001, and UPMC has a very rich medical history. From development of the polio vaccine to pioneering work in transplantation surgery, the work done here has benefitted healthcare recipients all over the world for generations: What child hasn’t received a polio vaccine? Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine back in 1954. And Thomas Starzl, who performed the first human liver transplants – often referred to as the “father of modern transplantation” – still works at UPMC.
Yet it wasn’t all that long ago when Children’s found itself teetering on the edge of the Steel City’s steel manufacturing collapse. But the hospital not only survived the economic crisis of the 1980’s, it is now celebrating the 125th year of its incorporation, thanks in large part to the dedicated philanthropy of retired Greek American industrialist John G. Rangos, Sr.
The hospital honored Mr. Rangos during its 125th anniversary gala event at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center this past October 2, which was attended by more than 900 supporters who gathered to celebrate the greater Pittsburgh community’s unwavering efforts to help the hospital continue its mission since 1890. The gala helped the CHP Foundation raise $12 million for its 125th anniversary campaign this year, so far, even raising $225 thousand thru text2give on the spot that evening alone.
A number of celebrities, athletes, business and government leaders attended the recent gala, to include former Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux and former Pittsburgh Steelers greats Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu. “True Blood” actor and Pittsburgh native Joe Manganiello was the evening’s honorary chair.
The hospital clearly has many ardent supporters, but in terms of ongoing generosity, time spent and a steady guiding hand, perhaps no one has been as consistent and resolute in his support over time as Mr. Rangos, who has donated millions to Children’s, including momentous gifts that helped fund two large research facilities at the hospital which bear his name.
Mr. Rangos’ son Alex accepted the hospital Foundation’s “Legacy of Hope” award on his father’s behalf that evening, noting that Mr. Rangos’ deep sense of philanthropy – particularly as it pertains to children – was inspired by another legendary American industrialist, Ernest Tener Weir, who had opened dozens of steel mills employing thousands of people; established banks; built libraries; and supported public schools and youth programs in and around Weirton, West Virginia where Mr. Rangos grew up during the Great Depression.
“Dad has never forgotten how much E.T. Weir cared about kids in Weirton. He knew someone cared enough to make sure he underwent proper medical exams when he was playing interscholastic sports. That someone was E.T. Weir. That’s what inspired my dad to also do something meaningful for children in need, and that led him to Children’s Hospital,” he said.
In addition to the award, the CHP Foundation also issued an official proclamation: “Whereas his patriotism and leadership have directly and indirectly benefited the Western Pennsylvania region… whereas some of the greatest beneficiaries of his philanthropic vision and generosity have been the children whose lives and health have been touched by Children’s Hospital… we do hereby proclaim that (Mr. Rangos) be accorded with the ‘Legacy of Hope’ award for his lifetime contributions to the children of our region and, indeed, the world.”
For his part, Mr. Rangos told the National Herald that while he felt very humbled by the CHP and UPMC community’s decision to honor him, the hospital and the thousands of kids it helps each year are the real focal point. “I was inspired in my life by the philanthropy of people like E.T. Weir and Andrew Carnegie. But helping Children’s stay true to its mission is what’s paramount. It’s one of Pittsburgh’s greatest jewels, and we need to ensure that it keeps doing its tremendous work in order to give children the great care that Children’s provides.”
Speaking with the Herald, J. Gregory Barrett, president and chief development officer of the CHP Foundation, noted that Mr. Rangos is in the pantheon of past CHP supporters: industrialists and financiers like Henry Clay Frick, Richard King Mellon and George Westinghouse.
“Looking at the official documents, you find names like Frick, Mellon and Westinghouse. They were all on the original board of incorporators, and that made me think: If George Westinghouse’s children got sick back then, he wouldn’t send his kids to a hospital; he would have a doctor brought to his home. But so many children never get to enjoy such privileges. And this hospital was created to serve those children; so children who do not enjoy such access could also have a place to heal. You find that ideal stated in the original documents. This hospital opened its doors to all children, regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. And in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, that was incredibly progressive thinking,” Mr. Barrett said.
“And that really stuck with me. The research and care Children’s provides is critical and truly global in its scope. But what isn’t noticed as much is that, over the past 125 years, it has taken an incredible community of people to uphold the original covenant: that every child is our child. That’s what needs to be celebrated. And I thought, who better than John Rangos today exemplifies that ideal? If you talk to him, you realize his passion for children, and for this country. His generosity to this hospital and the Pittsburgh community is manifest. It exemplifies his commitment to the future, and that’s why he’s a worthy exemplar of the hospital’s founding mission,” he said.
“It’s easy to be there when times are good. But it’s also about being there in times of need. And Mr. Rangos is just a great example of being there throughout the good times and the bad; as an investor in our research endeavors; and as a lead negotiator for the merger between Children’s and UPMC,” he added.
The merger with UPMC was a seminal event, Mr. Barrett explained, because it provided an opportunity for Children’s to grow and expand its reach. With more than 20 academic, community and specialty hospitals; more than 500 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, employing nearly 3,600 physicians; and offering a wide array of rehabilitation, retirement and long-term care facilities, UPMC is a global healthcare conglomerate and a leader in all fields of medicine today, he pointed out.
“And being part of UPMC provides us with additional strength, as well as benefitting UPMC at the level of pediatric care. So when you think about an institution that has touched lives all around the world, it’s difficult to think of more than a handful that have touched as many lives as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh,” he said.
When Mr. Rangos first joined CHP’s board of directors, Mr. Barrett added, the hospital was in crisis mode and needed to be revitalized, “so he was instrumental in helping us advance to the next level, and to continue our legacy in serving not only as a great regional hospital, but also as a national and global center of pediatric care.”
PRIDE OF PLACE
Mary Jo Dively, a trustee who chaired the CHP Foundation from 2000 to 2014, told the Herald that Mr. Rangos has been the driving force behind Children’s for a long time, and that his ongoing concern for children who need access to the best possible pediatric care made the Foundation’s decision to honor him a no-brainer.
“As we considered the one donor who stands out, both substantively and constantly, over all these years, it’s been John Rangos. Back from the original monies he donated to start our research program, which has really taken off and grown so dramatically; to additional funds he provided for research on specific diseases and causes, he has always been there for Children’s. Every so often, the hospital has a particular need. John always understands the need, and then he comes up with more,” Ms. Dively said.
“We’ve been very lucky to have so many wonderful donors over the years, but John definitely has the pride of place. He’s really the number one. He has been constant with his generosity, and the person who has been the most attentive with his resources, time and genuine love. So for us, he was simply the obvious choice. He never forgets the hospital. And in a year that’s so special – very few institutions get to reach 125 years of age – we really wanted to top it off by recognizing a wonderful person who has been such a big part of Children’s success over the past 30-35 years. And it’s just so important to thank someone who has played such a crucial role,” she said.
“We were absolutely in crisis mode when John first got involved. It was a very tough time because there was an economic downturn then, particularly in Pittsburgh. The steel industry was in serious decline. The bottom fell out of the market, and a recession followed. The hospital was on the verge of losing some of its funding because of that. And that’s when we went to John. A lot of people who had made pledges had to restructure their commitments, but not John. He was not immune to the crisis, of course, but he remained steadfast for Children’s. And that meant a lot to everyone because it proved how much he really cared about both the hospital and Pittsburgh,” she added.
Ultimately, Ms. Dively said, Mr. Rangos helped pull the hospital back from the brink at a time when it was staring into an economic abyss. Not only that, she said, he played an instrumental role in preventing the hospital from collapsing altogether, ultimately helping it become the major center of pediatric care it is today.
“We did not have a research program of large scale like the one we embarked upon as a result of his gifts. And there’s no way we could have become a major center of pediatric care without a thriving research program. John’s generosity not only helped the hospital to keep going, but to actually grow and become a place where important research is conducted,” she said.
FROM THE HEART
It’s also very important to understand that Mr. Rangos gives to CHP, she added, because he genuinely cares about children in need. And his giving also has a strategic purpose: “He doesn’t do it for his own glory. If you see him with the kids, that’s where it all comes from. It’s something from deep inside the man himself. He’s a truly good person, and his giving always comes from the heart. He also exercises his charity as an opportunity to make targeted investments because his gifts to Children’s also helped spur economic growth in the area.”
From that standpoint, Ms. Dively explained, the merger with UPMC was particularly consequential because CHP was at a crossroads. A decision had to be made about whether the hospital would focus on great patient care, great teaching or great research.
“The hospital was well respected, but we needed more resources in every area. We had an aging facility, and we needed to at least double the amount of our research space. And there was some debate about whether Children’s should simply focus on one aspect or doing all three. There were different views, but John was a strong proponent of doing all three, and his voice made a difference. He understood that in order to be a great pediatric care center, we needed to do all three. Research refreshes teaching, which refreshes patient care, which refreshes research. It’s a virtuous cycle which, if done properly, elevates the program and mission overall,” she said.
David H. Perlmutter, physician in-chief and scientific Director of CHP for the past 14 years and chairman of UPMC’s Department of Pediatrics, agreed with Ms. Dively’s assessment, and said that without Mr. Rangos’ support, Children’s could have vanished from the Pittsburgh landscape.
“Research is the future. It’s the key to the hospital’s continuing success, and Mr. Rangos is genuinely interested in the research side of hospital life. He provided substantial funding for two research centers, as well as several individual research programs, so he played a key role in the decision to merge with UPMC which, to me, was the single most important decision this hospital ever made, certainly in the last 30 or 40 years,” said Dr. Perlmutter, who is eventually relocating to St. Louis, where he will serve as dean of the Washington University School of Medicine.
“The reason for that is because the merger allowed Children’s to be great at taking care of the community; have a new hospital and new research center; as well as establish a world-class research program. That wouldn’t have happened without the merger, and the merger wouldn’t have happened without Mr. Rangos. We all care about the children. That’s the core requirement. But it takes a rare person to recognize that there’s a way to provide even better care thru research,” he added.
It also takes enormous resources to do everything well. And UPMC offered to build a new state-of-the-art hospital and a new research center that would be substantially larger than the existing campus in the Pittsburgh suburb of Oakland, and to provide an additional $250 million for additional research and patient care. All told, the merger with UPMC added up to approximately $750 million, and Mr. Rangos gave more than $6 million to help build the second Rangos Research Center, a 9-story/300,000-square-foot facility which was up and running by Fall 2008 in the suburb of Lawrenceville, where the new hospital also opened its new doors shortly afterwards.
SALT OF THE EARTH
“Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC has been a very special place to work, and it’s awfully hard to leave because Pittsburgh is also a wonderful place to live. We are the only children’s hospital in the Pittsburgh region, and the only place in Western Pennsylvania where children can go for specialized care,” Dr. Perlmutter said.
“And Mr. Rangos gets that. He realizes what a special place Children’s is, and he has helped us make it that way. He has been so wise, and so many good decisions have been made because of his vision, wisdom, input, business acumen and long history of active involvement,” he said.
“Mr. Rangos knows how the medical industry can be run as a business while still adhering to its noble purpose. And I love working with him. He’s a very supportive and insightful person. He has a great sense of humor, and he has a wonderful family. They’re the salt of the Earth. They’re true Pittsburghers, and they all deeply care about the hospital,” he added.
And while Dr. Perlmutter is leaving Pittsburgh with a sense of wistful nostalgia, he also said he is heading to St. Louis knowing that, as long as the Rangos family stays involved, CHP will be in good hands well into the future.